The 4-3 Green Bay Packers will face the 3-5 Indianapolis Colts this Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. ET tussle at Lambeau Field.
The Packers are coming off of a brutally close, yet somewhat encouraging 33-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, while the Colts have struggled all year long. After this game, the Packers face three straight opponents on the road.
Here’s three important factors that could determine the outcome of the game.
Pass rush opportunity
The crippled Green Bay secondary actually played a decent game last week against the Falcons. What was notably missing was a consistent pass rush. Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers sacked Matt Ryan on consecutive plays at the start of the 4th quarter, but there was little pressure on the Falcons’ game-winning drive.
The Colts present a perfect opportunity to rectify any front-seven issues. They have one of the absolute worst offensive lines in football, as Andrew Luck has already been sacked a league-leading 31 times.
Clay Matthews will likely be ready for the contest, and he’ll be the key ingredient for Dom Capers as the Packers attempt to harass Luck. Nick Perry, Datone Jones, and Mike Daniels also all have the opportunity for huge games. I think Jones in particular could have a breakout game this week.
Quentin Rollins is likely to return this week from injury and T.Y. Hilton’s status is in question, but the Packers still need to give their secondary all the help they can get. Andrew Luck is an exceptional passer who will slice and dice the Packers if he has consistent time to throw.
This week will be an interesting peek into the playcalling mind of Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense have clearly looked the most comfortable this season playing out of spread sets with four or five receivers. In addition, Eddie Lacy and likely James Starks remain out with injury.
On the other hand, though, the clear weakness of the Colts’ defense is their run defense. They rank 2nd in the NFL in passing yards given up per game, but just 21st against the run.
It’s no secret that Mike McCarthy loves the idea of running the football. He also has a tendency to be overly stubborn with his playcalling, regardless of on-field results.
But without Lacy and Starks, McCarthy’s options are limited to Ty Montgomery, Don Jackson, and Aaron Ripkowski. They all have their strengths, but Jackson is the only traditional halfback, and he was an undrafted free agent.
Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wrote a great profile on this dilemma. One of the key takeaways from his piece is the argument that the Packers’ offense is exponentially more dangerous with Trevor Davis or Jeff Janis on the field than Richard Rodgers.
The short passing game has been extremely effective at replacing the running game and getting the offense into a rhythm. It might not be a sustainable strategy for the entire season, though.
Will McCarthy insist on attacking the Colts’ weakness? Or would he rather continue to call what’s been working?
As I wrote earlier this week, the Packers’ turnover margin this year has been below average at -2. It’s uncharacteristic for the Dom Capers and Aaron Rodgers-led Packers, and it’s been a contributing factor in each of the team’s three losses this season.
This week would be a great time to turn around the trend at home.
Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, but he’s had some troubles with interceptions (16 and 12 in the last two seasons). Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, protects the ball historically well, especially at home.
It’s high time for the Packers defense to make a few big plays on defense. This defense has traditionally been a leaky unit that’s often come up with timely interceptions to stop offenses.
This year, the leaks have been largely plugged up. But the picks just aren’t coming.
If they can start forcing turnovers at the rate they used to, this Packers’ defense could be one of the league’s best. Halfway through the season, this would be a good time for players like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Ladarius Gunter and Quentin Rollins to get on track.
Packers 34, Colts 21
I feel very good about the Packers’ chances this week. The return of Rollins will boost the secondary, and the front seven should be able to absolutely demolish the Colts’ offensive line. On offense, McCarthy and Rodgers finally seem to have found a working formula.
Coming off a loss to face a 3-5 team at home, the Packers should be hungry to prove a point and stay above .500 on the year. This is a game that would really hurt to lose, especially with a three-game road trip coming up.
I don’t think they’ll let this one slip away, and I don’t think it will be all that close. Green Bay 34, Indianapolis 21.